Millennials, or the cohort of young people who came of age around the time of the year 2000, are an often written about and yet still much misunderstood group.
They are sometimes characterised as flip-flop wearing, work-shy geeks with a social conscience, who expect life just to fall into their lap.
Having just reviewed one of the most substantial pieces of global research about this group ever undertaken, commissioned by Telefonica*, I'd say this stereotype is undeserved.
True, they are tech pioneers, very comfortable with technology and seeing technology as key to their future. A quarter typically have three or more tech devices (mobiles, laptops, MP3 players etc) on their person at any time. They also spend on average six hours A DAY online and use the internet as their primary source for everything from news to entertainment. Indeed they are so wedded to the net that if you took it away for a time and offered to return access in exchange for something, 55% say they would give up alcohol, 23% their car, 19% sex and 12% food. This is a group for whom internet access really matters!
Also true, in the work-place they are motivated by more than money. 88% say a company being socially responsible is important when thinking about somewhere to work, more important than working for a large global company or an innovative start-up.
However millennials are a more complicated group than the short-hand would imply.
For one thing, they have survived the downturn often suffering more than other sections of society and yet they have retained a positive outlook. Globally 83% say they are optimistic for their future, with millennials in BRIC countries like Brazil and India some of the most optimistic. They are also a group with a positive sense of where they are heading. Three quarters agree with the statement "I know exactly where I want to be in ten years".
They increasingly shun traditional political processes but still want to help bring about change. Only 28% say they always participate in the political process. Even less (5%) see being involved in politics as very important to their life plan. Yet contrast this with the number - 40% - who think that their actions can make a global difference. They aren't dreamers, they are ambitious for change but just don't see politics as the vehicle to deliver it.
Despite being less Generation X and more Generation X Factor, they are not trivial either. Given a choice between being rich, successful, famous or happy, only 8% would choose rich and 1% famous. Their life plan involves getting to the top of their career, having a family, being happy and making a difference.
Within this group, there are substantial differences around the world. The clear optimism of millennials in Latin America contrasts markedly with the gloomier Europeans, many of whom see their country's best days as in the past and providing less opportunity for them to get on.
There is also a new gender gap emerging within millennials, with men far more confident and tech savvy, and women more likely to prioritise other areas to study like languages, economics or science.
But what strikes me most about this group - particularly the Millennial Leaders, the small group at the top that are most engaged - is not only that they are the connected generation but also a group with high expectations for what the future holds and that they want to play a part in shaping it. It is this mindset that drove millennials on to the streets of Cairo in 2011 and Sao Paulo in 2013, using technology to organise protests focused on creating a better future. This optimism is definitely a defining characteristic and an asset, but only if the world is as malleable as they hope.
Matt Carter is speaking about millennials at the O2 Campus Party on Friday 6th September 2013. Matt is senior consultant at PSB, who conducted a study of millennials for Telefonica, involving 12,000 interviews in 27 countries with millennial adults aged 18-30 years. For more information go to www.telefonica.com/millennials